By; IYOKPO J. EGBODO, Abuja
The national leadership of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) has promised to review its ongoing two weeks warning strike commenced on Monday, following the intervention of the Speaker of the House of Representatives Rep. Femi Gbajabiamila.
ASUU National President, Prof Abiodun Ogunyemi, said at a meeting convened by the Speaker at the National Assembly on Thursday that the union will consult with its various structures across different universities in the country and get back to the Speaker “early next week.”
Disturbed by the strike action ASUU embarked upon, Gbajabiamila convened a meeting with the leadership of the union, ministries of labour and productivity and education, among other stakeholders with a view to finding a lasting solution to the problem of the industrial action.
Speaking at the meeting, Gbajabiamila expressed concern that the ASUU strike has unintending consequences that could only be imagined, noting that Nigerian students should not be allowed to face disruption in their academic pursuits.
On the agreement reached between ASUU and the Federal Government in 2009, Gbajabiamila wondered why the government could not meet its commitment more than 10 years after it signed the document.
On the issue of the Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System (IPPIS), which ASUU has kicked against, Gbajabiamila appealed to the union to bend over backwards and support any government’s efforts at fighting corruption in the country.
Gbajabiamila then appealed to ASUU to, in the interest of Nigerian students, put on hold its ongoing two weeks warning strike so that a solution could be found.
He also promised that the House would do everything within its powers to appropriate funds that would take care of the financial demands of ASUU, urging the union to work closely with relevant committees of the House to achieve that.
Gbajabiamila suggested that the House should be part of the scheduled meeting between ASUU and the Federal Ministries of Labour and Productivity and Education, saying the chairman of the House Committee on Tertiary Education and TETFund would attend the meeting. The suggestion was welcomed.
“Like I’ve always said, education is a fundamental human right and not a privilege. If we look at it that way, it will change the way we see things. We’ve tried severally to see that the country avert strikes in this country, and we’ve achieved that with medical doctors and electricity workers.
“It doesn’t speak well of the country when it becomes perennial that we talk of strikes. We should try and rise above everything and put the lives of our children first. Education is at the front burner of our agenda, and we’ll do everything to achieve that.
“On the 2009 agreement, there has to be something called sanctity of agreement. There are situations where agreements become impossible to implement not for a fault of government.
“If you have an agreement and there’s dwindling revenue, how does the government respect that? But I’ll blame that on the part of government, and we’re a part of government, even though we didn’t sign an agreement with ASUU.
“On the issue of IPPIS, I’ve heard and read your position. Your union is even divided on this. Much as you argue that you can’t be part of IPPIS, we live in a country governed by laws. We may not like a law or policy, but as part of government, we should respect that.
“If government comes up with a policy for good, we should support that and be part of it. Honestly, much as you may have a point, I think the optics may not be for you.
“If the National Assembly is to be captured under IPPIS, and we as members of the National Assembly say no, what will the public, including ASUU, say? If ASUU can come up with excuses, others too may do that.
Gbajabiamila told the ASUU leadership that “If you were in sufficient contact with the National Assembly, which has powers of the purse, maybe the issue would have been resolved by now.
“I want to appeal to you. We successfully dealt with the issue of medical doctors and electricity workers; we must deal with this. I know government is ready and willing to listen to you, I think you should also listen to government.
“We called this meeting to find lasting solution to the problem. Please, give us the opportunity to be part of your negotiations with government. We in the National Assembly have never been part of your negotiations with government, so this time around, we want to be part of it.
“Give the issue of IPPIS another thought, and if government can take care of your fears, I think you should agree on that. I’m appealing to ASUU that if you can hold on for the sake of our children, let’s see what we can achieve in the next two weeks. This new agreement will be a tripartite agreement now. Give us that confidence.”
In his response, ASUU President, Prof Ogunyemi, said it has become public knowledge that government could not respect the 2009 agreement it reached with the union, which resulted in disagreement with the union.
He said the issue of IPPIS that government directed universities to be part of is against the practice all over the world and that would make Nigerian universities to be local in nature.
When government first notified ASUU of IPPIS in 2013, he said, the union opposed it, and that government said a joint committee would be constituted to look at the areas of disagreement but that nothing was heard until July last year when the issue came up again.
“With our knowledge, we can give them an alternative that could cost them nothing against what they’re spending now. We challenge them to tell us anywhere in the world where IPPIS is implemented in the universities. IPPIS will shut the door against foreign scholars, researchers and the rest.
“They said by attacking IPPIS, we’re covering corruption. We can’t do that, and we won’t do that. We’re saying that there are other ways of tackling corruption rather than IPPIS. They want to localise our universities, but that shouldn’t be. We have come up with a universities accountability system, and let’s join hands to implement it.”
On the Speaker’s request for the strike to be put on hold, Ogunyemi said: “That’s why ASUU is always reluctant to go on strike. The structures we’re talking about are not in Abuja. People will have to come from different parts of the country. The best we can promise here is that you give us to early next week to consult and we’ll get back to you.”
Meanwhile, the Minister of State for Labour and Productivity, Bar Festus Keyamo, told the Speaker that ASUU did not give the ministry the two weeks notice for the strike as required by the Trade Dispute Act.
Despite that, he said, a meeting was convened for 2.pm on Thursday between ASUU and the relevant ministries for the issues to be addressed.
Present at the meeting were Principal Officers of the House, including House Leader Alhassan Ado Doguwa; Chief Whip Mohammed Tahir Monguno; Deputy Leader Peter Akpatason; Deputy Whip Nkeiruka Onyejeocha; Minority Leader Ndudi; Minority Whip Gideon Gwani; Deputy Minority Leader Toby Okechwukwu and Deputy Minority Whip Adesegun Adekoya.
Others were the Minister of State for Education Chukwuemeka Nawajiuba, former ASUU President, Prof Nasiru Isa Fagge, among others.